All About Guns

The Story of America’s Legendary M60 Machine Gun BY PGF

I’ve never shot the M60 though I wanted to the first time I saw one, which was in a Navy unit I briefly served with. The M2 is another story. The readers here probably know some interesting details about the weapon.

Photo found without attribution. Appears to be news stock, Vietnam Era.

Some of the links provided in the story are better than the source of this brief overview.

The M60 is one of the enduring symbols of the American firearms industry. Born out of a fusion of two WWII-era German designs, the original M60 had several engineering flaws that lead to its replacement by the M240. But in 2014, Denmark adopted the M60E6 as the standard light machine gun of its armed forces, and the design continues to be manufactured and sold today. How did the M60 go from its rushed original design to the gun it is today?


The story of the M60 begins right after the end of WWII. During WWII, U.S. soldiers faced down the advanced MG42 machine gun and FG42 automatic rifle. While some may say the MG42’s rate of fire was too high, the weapon was far more suitable for infantry use than the American M1919A6, with superior ergonomics and lower weight. They also faced the FG42, an advanced box-fed automatic rifle that was lighter and more flexible than the American M1918A2 BAR.


Both of these weapons impressed American evaluators, who ordered Saginaw Steering Gear Division of General Motors to produce a version of the MG42 in the American .30-06 caliber. This did not go so well, with many engineering errors such as making the receiver too short. The final gun was highly unreliable, and the project was canned.


The U.S. Ordnance Corps then investigated the possibility of converting the FG42 into a belt-fed machine gun. A variety of prototypes were made. The T44 was a relatively standard FG42 converted to use the MG42’s belt feed, but the basic FG42 barrel proved too light for sustained automatic fire. The T52 came later, incorporating a heavier barrel. Later iterations of the T52 added a quick-change barrel and a new gas system.


The Army also began development of the T161 around this time, which was a variation on the T52 design, but modified for mass production. The T161 and T52 competed with each other throughout 1953 and 1954. In 1954, both guns were adapted for the new 7.62x51mm NATO round and M13 belt link, though they were not called that at the time. The T161 eventually won and went through several iterations before its final field trials as the T161E3 in 1955 and 1956.


The results of the T161E3 trials were impressive. Soldiers preferred the gun over the M1919-series of guns as it was far easier to maneuver, aim, move, and maintain. The gun weighed almost ten pounds less than the M1919A6, tipping the scales at around twenty-three pounds. The T161E3 was adopted as the M60 on 30 January 1957.


The M60 would see its first combat use in the Vietnam War in 1965 with the U.S. Marines. While it served well for many soldiers, providing heavy, accurate firepower, it also revealed many more flaws in the design.


In the door gunner role, M60s could fire upwards of 5000 rounds a day, laying down constant suppressing fire onto landing zones before helicopters came in. This caused the lightweight receivers to stretch and even crack, and gages were issued to armorers to determine when replacement should occur, which usually happened around 100,000 rounds or so. In contrast, the heavier M240 has been known to go for upwards of two million rounds without receiver repair.

More at the source.

Here’s one going for six figures at auction. That price is entirely the NRA’s fault under the NFA; its members covet control of high prices for their automatic rifle investments. The video source is Rock Island Auction, 2023 Gun Prices and Trends, which details many collectibles for this coming year.

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